The Subtle Savages of the Virtual Jungle

I think I joined Flickr in 2008 or so, and posted vacation pics, pics of my dog, and later, some portraits i was doing for the occasional clients, some high speed fruit drops, macros of bugs, things like that. I was not that invested in it, and neither was anyone else, given my views and comments on the site. About a year ago, I stopped trying to be a photographer in the traditional sense and started to reassert the artist, and I started caring more who was looking at my photos, and how many.

In this last year, I have created a portfolio that I consider, despite shooting with a camera for over 12 years, my first real body of work. There are about 100 images I consider portfolio worthy, and about 50 that I am really proud of. I have made this medium that I have dabbled in work for my artistic expression, much the way music and songwriting did before it. So naturally, like my music, I want an audience, I want the feedback, I want the sense that it matters to others more than just me, the creator of it. Any artist seeks these external channels, and if they say they don't, they are kidding themselves and you.

I started on Flickr, like I said, and then found a few more sites: Fotocommunity.com, 1x.com, Bluecanvas.com, RedBubble.com, and most recently, 500px.com and ephotozine.com. That's a lot of sites to maintain, in addition to the expected Facebook and Twitter and StumbleUpon and Pinterest, and…well, you get the idea. It becomes quite an undertaking to maintain your profiles on these sites, and develop a few relationships and contacts on them, and "feed the meter" constantly. After all, there is the other stuff, the important stuff, like coming up with ideas, procuring models, props, wardrobe, etc. Suffice to say, you have to wear a lot of hats doing conceptual/fine art photography - you are essentially a director, a prop master, a researcher, a photographer, an editor, again, you get the idea. But you also have to be a press agent, a marketer of your work, to beef those numbers up to respectable and build some momentum and audience. Yes, your stuff has to be good, and get some attention on its own, but in the history of any medium of art, the quality of the work has never EVER been enough to carry it along into notoriety. You need to work it.

In seeking this exposure, in this past year, I have learned a lot. My thin skin has hardened a little, but not quite enough. Things get to me still. Things like apathy, indifference, or outright hostility. I don't get a lot - basically people are kind on these sites, and some are downright wonderful and endearing. There are a handful on every site that I have to thank over and over again, because they absolutely deserve it, if for nothing else, sending me a supportive or positive comment when I was feeling down about the image they commented on. Some I could imagine having a drink and a great conversation with, if only oceans and continents did not divide us. I think most of them have been more generous with their time than I have with mine, and I fret about not giving as much as I get all the time.

But now we come to the savages…

These are the alphas, the aggressive go-getters, almost unbefitting the art community,  who chase accolades and numbers with all the brute force of a cheetah bearing down on a tiring gazelle. Often, this ferocity is a product of the young, and it's part of the cycle, but some of us cringed from this linebacker personality in grade school, and it's just as unappealing in our adult lives as it was when you gave us beatings in the schoolyard.

Let me give some examples, without naming names…

The popular, established one, who dances in the same artistic ballroom you do, who will send out a garish fishnet of friend requests and get several hundred, but will never accept yours.

The popular, established one, who will silently accept any comment or vote, but will never deign to comment on yours, thank you for anything you've said, or even look at your portfolio on the most cursory level.

The wannabes, who glom onto the coattails of the aforementioned established one, and gracelessly copy and siphon the work of his/her blueprint-cum-role model until their "work" is nothing but a skin suit in Jamie Gumb's basement of terror.

The popular, established one, who will always back and support and promote the wannabes copying him/her so blatantly, that the only explanation of their support of this outright plagiarism of their work is it must somehow stroke their ego, while they offer no support to you when you, again, dance in the same ballroom, but chose to wear your own clothes, and not the same, redundant flowing gown they are wearing.

And then of course their are the hacks, the underdeveloped "artists" that relate success and merit ONLY by their following and number of views.


I have met them all, and lately, I have to add the local photographers in my town to the list of savages. Savage in their silence, in their indifference, in their sending a "like my page" only to never "like" my page when I send one back to them. Savage in gathering you in under the guise of "community" but only as long as they are the local celebrity. The thin skin is showing here, but you know what? I am not that worried about burning any bridges or offending anyone because these people will NEVER READ THIS! For all the reasons I have explained already. 

Their indifference is profound, predictable, and complete.

Though this may sound like a rant, there is some empathy too; I used to make it a point to reply with a thank you to each and every comment I got, and make sure to look at the work of the commenter, and find some time to comment in the spirit of genial reciprocity. I do know that this can snowball if you are lucky enough to grow some numbers. It is now sort of impossible for me to do this, what with my 40 plus hour "real job" and the all-consuming pursuit of my craft and passions. I get it. But then, not to the extent that I exonerate the actions of the savages. You are not off the hook. I may never be able to help you along in your trajectory, but surely, if I ever was in a position to do so, that kind of turn the other cheek is not something I can do. Not when i see shining examples of how you might be a better inhabitant of the virtual jungle.

And so, to end on a positive note, here is a list of wonderful people I have met this year, who have been a supporting presence on whatever site we are on together, who probably have encouraged me more that I have them, and deserve at least another round of thanks and mention. I feel I have found my voice and direction this year, and your words, presence, and support have been essential to it!

Thank you Misty Fugate, who dances in the same ballroom I do, but never ever withholds or loses connection with me. I have never met her, but she is one of my favorite people. She also is positively a bad ass behind the camera and photoshop.

Ruby Walker del Angel and Paul Long, friends on more than one site, and whose work I greatly admire.

Jim McKinniss, whose work I just found and is already inspiring me to do some more self portraits. Jim is a very generous person, I can tell that from 3000 miles away.

RodeoRose, Linda Morgan, Jethro61, lianne, carlunruh, happyhead64, frederiqueroy70,  charliebeck, valerie rosen and ramonfernandez  on BlueCanvas.com - gotta be the friendliest bunch of people ever assembled on one site. BlueCanvas is my favorite site because of people like them, and there are MANY that I am forgetting I know, and I am sorry if I did!

Mel Brakstone and Carol Brandt, Deborah Zaragoza, AnnaCuypers, RosaCobos, Carol and Mike Werner on RedBubble.com - this site and I are often out of sync, as I believe it is based out of or primarily Australian, so people are sleeping when I am up, and vice versa, but nevertheless, several artists there have lodged in my memory, and are on my watch list! I hope you know i am watching! LOL

The list is long, and I will never have it complete, but the point is, there are supportive people out there, and it need not be dog eat dog. We are all in it for our own needs and reasons, but we have that in common. I have never been very community-minded, but this is the closest I have come to feeling a common bond, and I have never met one of them!

Thank you all.